A bunch of new laws went into effect in Florida today, several of them designed to have serious impact on public education. The one that’s received the most publicity is HB 7069, which could have been named the Charter Aggrandizement Act. It’s a shotgun approach to “reform” that includes a $400 million jackpot to encourage new charter schools to locate near public schools—as in, right across the street from them. And as if nearly half a billion dollars isn’t a sufficiently lavish giveaway, this new statute also requires public school districts to share a portion of their capital funding with the charter schools (in addition to the existing requirement to share their operating budgets), thus essentially underwriting the construction costs of the new schools.
And if the shotgun approach isn’t destructive enough, there are two other bills aimed like laser scopes directly at a couple of the key principles of public education.
SB 436, which should be known as the Eliminate the Church/State Separation Act, is disingenuously billed as a measure to “safeguard” students’ and teachers’ rights to express their religious beliefs while in public schools. Uh-huh. There are news stories nearly every day that identify student and teacher rights that are clearly in need of protection. But, instead of any of them, this dubious “right” is what the legislators chose to enshrine?
And, finally, HB 989 revises the policy on instructional materials to allow any resident of the district to challenge books and other materials being used in the public schools. Any resident, not just parents. This, in other words, is the Return of Book-Burning Act.
It’s as if the legislators are determined to turn the phrase “Florida education” into an oxymoron.